The War that Saved my Life by Kimberly Brubaker Bradley

5 stars
This is the first Kimberly Brubaker Bradley book I've read. It will not be my last!

It is the story of two siblings, Ada the elder, and Jamie, her younger brother. They live with their abusive mother in London just prior to the onset of WW2.  Both children are harangued, starved and knocked around. Ada's abuse is harsher since she is often locked in a filthy, roach infested closet and never allowed to leave their one room apartment because of her clubfoot. 

In spite of internalizing her mother's narrative of herself as useless and ugly, Ada takes steps to change her life by spending one summer secretly learning to stand and walk. Then, when she learns from Jamie that children are being evacuated from London because of the war, the two children sneak away to join them. 

At first Susan Smith, their new guardian, is loathe to take responsibility for them, but over time, comes to love them. Through bits and pieces we see how she comes to understand the magnitude of abuse they have experienced in their short past. The children recover and react in different ways as overtime, they become emotionally and physically stronger. While Susan is busy with their care, we see that this helps her gradually recover from her grief after the loss of Becky, who she lived with and loved. 

What I loved
This is a beautifully crafted book. Both the primary and secondary characters are nuanced, complex individuals you will find yourself caring deeply about. Bradley has captured the complexity in the relationships between them. It isn't easy for the two children to learn to trust Susan. How this evolves feels like the revealing of a profound truth. 

As a reader I believed in the places Bradley took me into. I cringed at the squalid circumstances of the children's London flat. I was there as Ada first experienced grass, the ocean, and multitude of other aspects to country life and their country home. The stark contrast between the two worlds is reminiscent of the contrast between the two women in the children's lives.

What troubled me
There are sections, such as when Ada discovers a German spy, that tested my belief in the story, but the story is so compelling, I could easily let go of this. 
I came to love Jayne Entwistle's narrations of this audiobook, but it was disconcerting at first, since I primarily associate her with Alan Bradley's Flavia de Luce.

This book belongs in every school library for many reasons.  It is a book about hope. It's a book about love and its power to change our world. It's an historical novel for readers who don't like history. 
I already know a number of readers who will love this book when it arrives in our library. 

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